Huawei pushes back against possible Australian 5G ban

Australia could be left behind if the company is blocked from supplying 5G equipment to local telcos, Huawei Australia’s chairperson has argued

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Australia will be left behind if the government bans the nation’s telcos from using 5G equipment supplied by Huawei, the chairperson of the Chinese company’s local subsidiary has warned.

Huawei Australia chair, John Lord, today used a National Press Club address to push back against a potential prohibition in the use of the company's equipment in 5G networks.

Huawei in 2012 was blocked by the government from participating in the roll out of the National Broadband Network, due to national security concerns.

Under the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms (TSSR), the Australian government can effectively veto a telco’s use of particular suppliers. There has been a flurry of reports that intelligence agencies have recommended against allowing Huawei to supply 5G equipment.

In his speech Lord pushed back against the idea that the company is run by a Communist Party of China cell and that it is forced to cooperate and collaborate in with Chinese intelligence efforts.

The Chinese National Intelligence Law “contains safeguards that discharge individuals and organisations from providing support that would contradict their legitimate rights and interests,” he said. The law “has no legitimacy outside China,” he added.

“We obey the laws of every country in which we operate in. In Australia we follow Australian laws,” Lord said. “To do otherwise would be corporate suicide.”

Huawei is the largest supplier of mobile broadband equipment to Australian carriers, supplying Optus, Vodafone and TPG, he said.

“We are proud that we're the most audited, most inspected, reviewed and critiqued global ICT player in the world,” Lord said.

“We are proud that after every kind of inspection, audit, review, nothing sinister has been found. No wrongdoing, no criminal action, no intent, no backdoor, no planted vulnerability and no magical kill switch. In our three decades as a company no evidence of any sort has been provided to justify these concerns by anyone ever.”

“Carriers in Australia have been using Huawei equipment now for nearly 15 years — there's never been any issue that could affect national security,” the Huawei Australia chairperson said.

“The question is: If Huawei can deliver 4G to Australia effectively and safely, why can't it do 5G?” he said.

In the UK and Canada the firm has set up and run government-endorsed evaluation facilities using security-cleared testing personnel and it is working on launching a similar setup in New Zealand. The company is also establishing a briefing and evaluation centre in Brussels, he added.

“These facilities allow government to have testing carried out at the classified level, visible only to cleared people,” he said. “Testers in these facilities have access to all of our source code and our hardware schematics and can verify that no malicious code or other deliberate vulnerability is present in our products.”

In a letter to MPs sent by the company’s Australian leadership earlier this month, Huawei invited Australian officials and security agencies to meet with its R&D teams. It also repeated the company’s offer to establish an Australian evaluation and testing centre to conduct independent testing of its equipment.

Much of the equipment of Huawei’s competitors is manufactured in China, Lord said in his speech. Nokia equipment used in the National Broadband Network rollout is “manufactured barely a kilometre down the road from Huawei's facility in Shanghai” at a joint venture between the Finish company and a Chinese state-owned enterprise.

“Now, I raise this not to be critical of Nokia, but because Huawei obviously manufactures its products in China also — but I do it to underline the reality of the world we live in,” Lord said.

Regardless of whether Huawei participates in the rollout of 5G networks in Australia, much of the equipment used by local telcos will be made in China, he said.

A ban risks Australia missing out on access to “world-leading technology,” he said.

“The suggestions that Huawei, the largest provider of 4G technology in Australia today, should be banned from building 5G networks here should be a concern for everyone and particularly Australian businesses,” Lord said. 

“The implications about limiting access to technology competition could be high and it's a short-term small-mind choice, rather than seeking to incorporate the technologies from these new companies in a solution that also secures our critical structures.”

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